Two years on…It‟s January 2013, two years after we were flooded inthe Brisbane floods of January 2011. Suncorp stillrefuse to honour the terms of our insurancepolicy, prolonging our homelessness and emotionaltrauma.
BackgroundMay 2009 First flood – rapt with Suncorp‟s six-month repair job on our home, raved at every opportunity , moved back home Nov 2009Jan 2011 After 14 months back home, the big flood hit, this time much deeper, and for much longerJan 2013 We‟ve been out of our home for 30 of the last 44 months It’s been an extremely upsetting upheaval, and we just want it to end, and go back to “normal life”.
Suncorp denies liability for structural damageSuncorp accepts that we have a valid claim, and has paidus cash to cover cosmetic works(plaster, electrics, cabinetry, paint, etc.), but continues todeny responsibility for the much-more-significant (andexpensive) structural works, despite overwhelmingevidence that it was caused by the flood.We will ultimately win at the Ombudsman, but it‟s been twoyears and we need Suncorp to fix their error now ratherthan waiting to be ordered to do the right thing.
The flood Our upper floor Front door, from the street, near peak height
The processWe‟ve now had five structural engineering firms (two paidby Suncorp, three by us) inspect the property. Four havewritten extensive reports (one wrote only a two-page letter).All agree that there are significant structural issues. Suncorp accept this, but attempt to attribute the structural damage to anything other than the most obvious culprit: the flood.
So what has happened?The consensus of engineering evidence is that the action ofthe flood water on the fill underneath our slab has causedboth hogging – where the slab is pushed upwards byswollen soil – and cupping, where the slab sinks due to thesoil re-settling in a more condensed configuration.
How do we know?• Two contour maps were taken of our slab, one by one of Suncorp‟s engineers and one by one of ours, and they were remarkably consistent• The relevant Australian Standard (AS2870) specifies that height deviations in excess of 1 in 150 are outside the serviceability requirements, i.e. the slab is unserviceable and doesn‟t meet Australian Building Code• This means that across a horizontal distance of 1.5m (150cm), the height deviation must not exceed 1cm• Therefore, on a plan showing contour lines every 1cm of height difference, the lines should be at least 1.5m apart, if the slab is to be considered serviceable, and you should be able to move a 1.5m diameter circle cleanly between all the contour lines
Our slabThis is a 1.5mdiametercircle, to scalewith thediagram atright.Everywhere that you can‟t fit thiscircle between adjacent lines –marked by pink - represents asection of the slab that isunserviceable.
Was the slab damaged prior to the flood?This is one of Suncorp‟s reasons why they shouldn‟t be responsible for thedamage, to which we have three solid responses:1. Suncorp repaired our home over a six-month period in 2009, including securing some crumbling slab edges, and laying large-format tiles in several rooms. At no point were any issues raised with the condition of the slab. As it is now outside tolerance by several orders of magnitude, and has gradients visible to the naked eye, it isn‟t credible that none of Suncorp‟s contractors would have noticed this in 2009.2. After these repairs, as per our policy, Suncorp handed back the house to us with the ground floor in “good as new” condition in November 2009, 14 months prior to this flood.3. We are fortunate to have photographic evidence of the state of the slab in 2009, as you‟re about to see.
This is to show that we‟re talking about the same sections of concrete. On thenext page is a close-up of the concrete itself, from these photos.
Concrete before and afterHave a close look. The right-hand section of slab has several prominentcracks. Can you see any in the left-hand picture? No, apparently onlySuncorp‟s engineer can see cracks in the left-hand picture. The crack itself isnot necessarily of structural significance, but it shows that the condition of theslab in 2011 is not the same as it was in 2009.
The footings have movedThe footings have moved as a result of the flood, resulting inseveral vertical cracks in the northern brick wall as per thisphotograph, crossing multiple brick courses.This indicates that the footings, as well as the slab, havebeen moved by the soil saturation, and the stress wassufficient to cause bricks to crack in half vertically.These cracks exist in several places along the wall, somemore than a metre high.Suncorp is trying to suggest that this is due to very oldmovements, perhaps the „74 floods. But we applied exteriorrender to the brickwork in 2003, and there are preciselycorresponding cracks in the render outside, so it is clearlyevidenced that the movement has happened no earlier than2003. Further, there were no render cracks either noted orrepaired in 2009.
Quotes from engineering reports“running a 2000mm builders spirit level over the slabs centroids showedalarming „out of level‟ readings. That coupled with the obvious radiating crackingfrom those centre points also indicated a major occurrence”“Extremely large changes in levels have taken place towards the centre of thebuilding in particular … ongoing movement should be expected in the future”“significant movement has occurred around the dwelling as a result of the 2011floods”“a combination of the above mechanisms [heaving and sinking] has taken placeat the property to result in the extreme level differences recorded.”“the flood event had a significant influence on footing system movement acrossthe building and as the founding soil moisture conditions are continuing tochange and dry, ongoing movement is taking place.”
Worse: bad faith by SuncorpShrinkage (latent) vs stress cracksSuncorp‟s position in their submission to the Ombudsman is that the slab cracks are old "latent cracks"– cracks formed during concrete drying 40+ years ago. They even suggest that one of our engineersagrees with them on this point. This is an extract from Suncorp’s submission::Here is an extract from the source engineering report (discussing possible types of cracks present):In other words, the engineer was making precisely the opposite point; that the cracks had obviouslyonly occurred recently and thus could not be shrinkage cracks. Omitting the engineer‟s secondsentence beginning with “However” is an act of deception and evidence of bad faith.
Should we just live with it?We asked the three engineers that we commissioned: “Please, tell us honestly if we aremaking a big deal out of nothing. If we should just drop this and accept a compromiserepair, tell us now, so that we can stop wasting time and emotional energy, and get backhome. This is from one of the email responses (though all were the same in substance): “I firmly believe that if you do nothing but simply „fill the cracks and re render over the walls etc.‟ not only will movement persist but cracks will re appear to cause an unacceptable level of defects to a buyer and home owner (too many cracks, gaps etc…) that will severely devalue your property and unless you heavily patch it before a sale and simply pass the buck to the poor buyer (which is clearly not acceptable, particularly since items such as timber rot will eventually lead to collapse) you will lose a lot of money. The nuance here it seems is that unless the cracks/defects are not about to immediately cause the house to collapse (by being structurally unsound), then [engineering firm X] and Suncorp appear willing to just patch it up and move on?? This is inappropriate and unacceptable.”
Why not just repair?We have no option but to continue this fight.1. The slab can‟t be certified. We‟d be allowed to live in it ourselves solely because the Queensland Government has exempted repaired flooded homes from having to be re-certified, but the inability to obtain certification would drastically affect re-sale price, and if ever we wanted to renovate in future, we‟d be unable to get a certification on the renovation.2. The amount of money Suncorp believe covers repair is insufficient to repair in any case, because they based it on a cut-price non-fixed quote from a builder who are unwilling to do the repairs for us on the basis of that quote.3. No builder, including the one whose quote Suncorp wants to use as the basis for pay-out, is willing to perform the repairs because they know the likelihood is that the work will extensively crack, and they bear ongoing liability for repairs under Queensland‟s Home Warranty Scheme (7 years).
The way forward?We have a case active before the Financial Ombudsman Service, who advise they‟ll resolve thematter by April 2013. Even if that timeline is achieved, this would still result in it taking more than threeyears to be back in our home. That’s too long by far!We are highly confident of an eventual win with the Ombudsman. We have ample engineeringevidence, but we want Suncorp to fix it now rather than making us wait even longer for an order fromthe Ombudsman. Now that all the evidence is in, and is overwhelming, they should be tripping overthemselves to rectify their error and apologise for the delay. But instead, they are trying to prolongthings even more in the hope that our will to continue will give out before the process completes, andthat‟s why we want public pressure: to get them to honour our policy now.We were planning a protest on the second anniversary of the floods, Friday the 11th of January, but due to both the difficulty of obtaining a permit, and vicious harassment, in the interests of our own safety we have reluctantly decided to cancel this protest.We nonetheless look forward to having our matter settled soon, and hopefully helping other insurancecustomers by our example.
Thanks for readingOur fight is almost over. Once our case is resolved, and I‟veemotionally regrouped from the nastiness directed towardsus over this dispute, I‟ll be doing all I can to help otherinsurance customers who haven‟t been so fortunate. Tracey Bryan